‘Woman’ in European languages

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more.

The map below shows how to say “woman” in European languages. The colouring is based on etymology, not on language families (in other words, if several languages share one colour, the translations shown on the map are derived from the same root in all these languages).

Amazingly, Slavic žena (and similar), Greek gynaíka, Germanic kvinna (and similar) and Celtic bean (and similar) all come from the same Proto-Indo-European root *gʷḗn (also related to English “queen”, for instance). An earlier version of the map did not show this connection, but they all share the same colour on the map below (as they should):

Woman in European languages
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Romanian femeie is derived from Latin familia, not femina, so it is not a cognate of French femme. Polish kobieta used to be derogatory, but it is now the neutral standard word. North Frisian wüset (or wüv in some dialects) is related to English “wife”, which itself is a cognate of “woman”. Hungarian is a cognate of Nenets ńē, but not a cognate of Finnish nainen.

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